Time for some self analysis

Being self-analytical is hard. I don’t have a ‘proper’ school at home, and rarely have anyone observing me working either. So if I get the chance to work with mirrors, or have photos/filming done then I jump at the chance. A friend of my Mum’s – Della – lives about 30 mins away and she lets us use her school as much as we need; realistically this is a handful of times a year only, but without these trips I can honestly say I would not have achieved a lot of the things that I have.

As the weather was good (It’s quite exposed at Della’s) we made the trip last weekend, and I wore my recently purchased jacket from Centaur Biomechanics as there is a mirror. My Mum also managed to get a few photos when she was able to step out of Granny mode for a few minutes!

I always spend ages staring at any footage of me plus horse, mostly picking myself apart. I have never done that in any public way before, so I feel quite brave in doing so now, I hope that it will perhaps encourage a few of you to be self – analytical too.

Before I go through my photos, I will run through the specific ‘issues’ that Lizzie and I each have to contend with.

Lizzie:

  • Is quite a handful (just in case I haven’t mentioned this before….) and very opinionated. If she doesn’t want to do something she will throw all of her toys out of the pram. For a looooong time. Repeatedly.
  •  She has been very slow to mature physically and mentally – rising 9 but she grew 1/2 an inch and went up a rug size last year.
  •  Due to the above, and being very weak and gangly, she runs onto the forehand and is only just getting anything like the strength behind to take weight there.
  • She has compensated for the above by bracing through her neck and shoulder girdles.
  • She ‘plaits’ with her front legs although this has improved as she has grown and no longer looks as of she has both legs coming out of the same hole.
  •  Her favorite evasion is to hollow – often imperceptibly to onlookers – and speed up, sometimes in a split second and very rapidly.
  • Despite us having had her since she was 10 months old, and done all her backing and producing, Lizzie is a very anxious mare, and anything remotely stressful (environment, work etc) results in teeth grinding and coming behind the vertical.
  •  Possibly linked to the anxiety, Lizzie was for a long time prone to being bananad to the right; I suspect a link to the anxiety due to the fact that her pattern would enable her Left eye to the the one used predominantly, and this is the eye used for scanning for danger etc.

 

Me:

  •  Long body and short legs.
  • I am very Right handed and consequently have better control here and fix badly with my Left hand.
  •  My left leg often has a life of its own.
  •  I have very hypermobile shoulders, which sit too far forward. My pectorals are therefore overactive and my scapula muscles a little weak.
  • The above is coupled with a sway back posture; I have a tendency to stick my pelvis forward which enhances my lumbar lordosis and thoracic kyphosis, and my head then comes a little forward.
  • I have not yet succeeded in getting my core back to what it was pre-pregnancy, in part due to my lovely rectus diastasis (split down the middle of my abdominals).
  • I don’t have that much confidence in my own abilities.
  • I have real problems with Left and Right, especially in lessons!

One final note is about her bitting. I tried Lizzie in a double bridle last summer because I simply wanted to see if it would reduce the hollowing and tanking evasion technique. I didn’t have any expectations and I intended to trial a few different options. The response was so good that I have kept her in it; the evasion is not totally gone and if she is in a real ‘mood’, I still have no hope, but mostly I can stop the problem escalating and carry on with constructive work quickly. She seems very happy in it, and as much as possible I try to not use the curb. I appreciate some people will probably disapprove of this, but as I said, it was just a try and it worked.

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I am pleased that I look balanced here, but I am a little too forward at the shoulders. Lizzie is tense (she was objecting a bit to the fact that she hadn’t worked on anything other than grass for several months…) and so behind the vertical.

I could probably have my hands a little more forward, but Lizzie might well take advantage in this mindset. I therefore need to focus more on scapula strength so that I can be strong in a soft manner, even if Lizzie is tense.

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Not a great picture in that Mum and I weren’t lined up so she got us on the turn. However, I am at least straight vertically. The horizontal shoulder lines are a little dipped left, but so are Lizzie’s hind quarters due to the turn. I need to be less rounded through the shoulders though.

 

 

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Lizzie is just getting the strength to hold herself in medium trot, and on this occasion she was a bit of a tank as well. Whilst I am pleased with my lower leg, I am tipping forwards and I have got too strong with the curb. There is a pretty straight line from my shoulder to Lizzie’s mouth though.

 

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Now in canter, my upper body position is better, and funnily enough, Lizzie is also more up in front. Although she get just as strong in canter as trot, I can see from this that I can deal with it better.

 

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Lizzie not looking too bad, but I am looking down, the right leg has gone back and I have taken too strong a contact with the right hand. I am at least straight and symmetrical.

 

 

 

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A great finish here. I’m really pleased with how straight we both are, just a slight dip of my right shoulder and ideally my left leg would be a little more forward possibly.

 

 

 

 

This is only a very small snippet of a 40 minute session which was at times quite challenging! Having not used mirrors for several months I have a lot to take away. Predominantly it is that at trot my shoulders are coming forwards. This has been an ongoing problem when Lizzie tries to take off, and one that I am getting on top of. However, the fact that I can maintain a better position at canter indicates that I am weak in my core at trot. Lizzie has a powerful back end and I need to absorb her movement better to be truly independent in my seat and then maintain upper body stability to allow a lighter hand.

I am not too worried about my leg position, but I need to keep an eye on it. Likewise the looking down; this has been a bad habit in the past so to only see it really obvious in 1 picture is great.

My plan from here:

I need to modify my home exercises a bit and focus more on upper body strength. I will do this with exercises on my front for work against gravity, and also my Flexibar. This is a crazy piece of equipment, which does as it says on the tin really as it is a long, flexible bar! The aim is to keep it moving – fast – by keeping the core active. In some ways I find it better for me than some work on a gym ball because I can do co-ordination work with it.

When I’m hacking, I will also work on me rather than Lizzie for a bit. Trotting up hill I can just focus on my upper body position with the carried hands. If Lizzie does get a bit strong, I can always bring her back to walk, rebalance, and trot again, as I won’t be concentrating on a specific schooling exercise.

Your plan from here:

Try and do the same as me. Get some photos or film of you in action and get analysing! Be strict but don’t be too harsh. If you have clothing with markings on then use it; I’ve only had my jacket since October and used it twice, and it is so helpful for a quick glance. They are relatively cheap to buy – or maybe you can borrow one – but you don’t have to have a specific jacket as any top with symmetrical stripes will work. You could even apply electrical tape to a plain top if you want.

Once you’ve got your list of things you want to work on, think of a handful of exercises or changes you want to work on. If you need help or guidance then speak to your instructor/physio/pilates instructor (or whoever you work with) to get a plan. Work on this for a couple of months and then review.

Happy analysing!

Louise

Published by Louise Towl Physio

I am a Chartered Physiotherapist with Pilates training, and I am an ACPAT (the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy) and RAMP (Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners) registered Veterinary Physiotherapist. Away from work I have ridden all my life, competing in various disciplines and now focussing on dressage. With my retired horse, Baz, I competed at Advanced level, and I now have a younger horse, Lizzie, who is currently competing at Elementary.

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